'We Aren't Just The Wives And Girlfriends'
Fairlady|March 2018

The film and TV roles Reese Witherspoon has created for women challenge stereotypes. And viewers are responding to these more complex, nuanced roles with a resounding thumbs-up!

Sandra Parmee

‘What did you want to be when you were five years old?’

That was one of the questions put to Reese Witherspoon during The Hollywood Reporter’s (THR) Drama Actress Roundtable discussion about sexism in Hollywood. And for anyone following Reese’s trajectory, her answer was unsurprising: ‘The first female president of the United States of America!’ Some cheeky little boys in her kindergarten class laughed when she said that, but fortunately her female teacher was quick to come in with a positive retort: ‘I’ll be the first one to vote for you.’

With credits for directing, producing and acting to her name, Reese is one of the most powerful women in Hollywood today, and is a strong advocate for changing the perception of women in society.

‘Women make up 50 percent of the population, and we should be playing 50 percent of the roles on screen,’ she says. ‘We need more female surgeons, supreme-court justices and soldiers – but on screen. Not just as the girlfriends to famous men.’ At the same THR roundtable session, Reese noted that great strides have been made in this respect: ‘The thing I particularly enjoy about the evolution of television is that we have the opportunity to show the entire spectrum of human emotion that women have. We aren’t just the wives and the girlfriends. We’re actually living, breathing people who have insecurities.’

It’s fair to credit Reese with contributing a great deal to this progress. Not content to simply talk the talk, she started her own production company, Pacific Standard, in 2012, with the stated aim of ‘seeing different, dynamic women on film’. And with the huge successes of Gone Girl, Wild and, of course, the TV series Big Little Lies, Reese has certainly achieved that.

Big Little Lies was initially conceived as a one-off show, but after the overwhelmingly positive response it received, it was green-lit for a second season – with no less than Meryl Streep joining the cast! Review site Rotten Tomatoes gave the show a rare approval rating of an incredible 92%, describing it as ‘bitingly funny, highly addictive; a twisty, thrilling, enlightening ride led by a first-rate cast’.

What’s more, Big Little Lies has collected a serious number of shiny statuettes: it swept the Emmy’s last year with eight awards, winning for ‘Outstanding Just-About-Everything’, with acting, writing, directing, cinematography all getting a nod or win. And the show made an equally impressive showing at the Golden Globes this year.

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